Game 51 @DEN: Raja Frickin Bell FTmfW
I broke out my Bell #19 T-shirt for the first time today before the game. (Just sayin’.) Now, I don’t want to take it off ever again. This may not have been the best win of the season (Millsap Murders Miami), but it was absolutely the most satisfying. Oh happy daaaaay (oh happy day)…
AK and Memo were still out, but Deron was in. For the Jazz, Deron was the only returning starter from last year’s Utah-Denver Playoffs series. The good guys hit 8 of their first 12 shots, but Gordon Hayward got called for two fouls within the first 3 minutes (meaning he actually lasted longer than many thought he would), and we were in the penalty 4:30 in. Fes came in for Al, and immediately produced a “FESENKO. FESENKO. FESENKO? FESENKO!” (reference at the 0:45 mark) sequence with a gorgeous spinning dunk and then a great assist. Thanks to aforementioned foul trouble, all 11 of our active players got into the game in the first quarter.
Jeremy Evans brought the hustle and energy in the second, and hit a 15-footer to beat the clock early in the 2nd. He followed that up with a huge putback dunk, and followed that up by taking a charge, and followed that up with a block. The lead was changing on almost every possession, and the Jazz had a 3-point lead at the half.
Gordon, who didn’t see action again in the first half after getting his second foul, got his fourth foul 2:13 into the second half. While the Jazz collected 10 blocks on the night (6 by Al and Millsap), the interior D was often too soft and allowed the Nuggets to stroll in for layups and dunks. On the bright side, the Jazz were much more scrappy on overall defense than we’ve seen, with the result being tons of easy transition buckets. Raja in particular was benefiting, CJ heated up as the game went on, and an Earl Watson trey gave the Jazz a 7-point lead with 30 seconds left in the 3rd. Unfortunately, the Jazz were not able to live up to their reputation as the “inbound assassins” on the final shot of the quarter.
I love a good NBA fight (don’t judge), and you could see one start brewing a few minutes into the fourth. Raja was getting under J.R. Smith’s skin (more on that below), and after an epic double-flop foul (unlike the Raja-Manu one, this one unfolded in a beautifully symmetric way)–
–Smith threw an in-the-air Raja to the ground under the basket. Deron and Millsap immediately went after Smith…
LOVED IT. SO, SO MUCH. NO WORDS TO DESCRIBE. (Watch the entire play here.)
…while the assistant coaches and trainers formed a human barricade in front of the bench as though they’d rehearsed it hundreds of times. It was the first scuffle involving the Jazz since Josh Smith pushed Matt Harpring out of the air two years ago. Matty said after that incident that his father, who played football, had always taught him that when you hit the ground, GET UP. Raja obviously also subscribes to the Harpring family philosophy, and he sat up smiling.
It was especially awesome to see because Linus Kleiza (then a Nugget) kicking Kyle Korver while he was on the ground and no Jazzmen doing a damn thing about it still sticks in my craw to this day. This might be my favorite Deron “play” ever, and I truly think the team needed that moment.
Raja wasn’t done for the night, and later proceeded to get under Melo’s (scoreless in the 4th) skin as well. Of course, everything that happened after the flagrant foul was anti-climatic, but I don’t want to ignore Big Al’s Malone-esque (yes, I said Malone-esque) 15-point fourth quarter. It was a 3-point game with 1 minute left, and Raja got a huge board on an Afflalo miss. Big Al then converted a hoop-and-harm and blocked Melo on the other end. Raja again got the board and hit a long 2 to put the Jazz up 8 with 16 ticks left. A few seconds later, Melo shoved Raja under the basket and Raja hit 1-of-2 (the missed one was the Jazz’s only missed FT of the night) to ice it.
It’s not the first time this season the Jazz looked like a TEAM through an entire game, nor was it the Jazz’s first win. It was, however, maybe only the second or third game both statements have been true. This was also Raja’s best game of the season, and I am thrilled about it. This was exactly why I’ve wanted him to be a second-time Jazzman for the past three years. Also, I continue to be completely grateful to KOC for signing Earl Watson.
Last thought: Tonight, we saw the Deron that we were expecting going into the season–the sole leader of the team. He came out with a different (i.e. positive) mindset tonight, and you could see it early in the game when, instead of pouting, he was talking to guys during stoppages on the court. The way Deron reacted to Smith’s flagrant foul shows the leadership that I’ve been thirsting for. Thirst quenched.
Head here for The Utah Jazz Blog’s video highlights.
Random Stuff, etc.
** Raja, post-game on J.R. Smith’s punk ass: I got to talking to him a little bit about two plays before [the flagrant]…I said a little something to him that I knew was going to get him a little frustrated, and I got what I was looking for when he fouled me on the screen by the scorer’s table. From then, I knew when I took off on that, I had to prepare to get whacked pretty hard, so I went up with two feet to protect myself. (KFAN audio) Raja Bell for the MFing win.
** CJ, post-game: We take care of our own. I guarantee you, if that was [Williams], Raja would’ve done the same thing. Whoever was out there, we would’ve broke it up, we would’ve jumped in there. I know for a fact [Ronnie Price] would’ve jumped in there. And that’s just how it’s supposed to be, though. We’re a unit. And that’s the way it’s got to be. (sltrib)
** Deron, post-game: You’ve got to have your teammate’s back. It was a dirty play. I know J.R. I like J.R., but you can’t push my teammate out of the air like that. (desnews)
** Not going to get into the officiating. I’ll let stats and actions speak. Stats: Utah, 26 fouls and 18 free throw attempts. Denver, 22 fouls and 36 free throw attempts (18 by Carmelo alone). Actions:
Unintentional Dirty Quote Machines of the Night
** Hubie on Nene: He can finish with either hand down inside.
** Hubie: There’s a lot of big man-big man double teaming by Denver.
** Hubie: Fesenko bangs around.
** The other guy besides Hubie: Jefferson rising and hitting! Hubie: He can hit that.